Survey shows women still lagging in law firms

By Julie Wernau
Posted Nov. 9, 2010 at 1:52 p.m.

Women lawyers continue to lag behind their male counterparts in rank, clout and pay, according to a survey by The National Association of Women Lawyers, due in part to new structures at firms that limit opportunities for women to advance.

Now in its fifth year, the survey is the only national study of the nation’s 200 largest law firms that annually tracks the progress of women lawyers in private practice and collects data on firms as a whole rather than from a subset of individual lawyers.
For the first time, the survey addressed the effect of non-partner track and part-time positions  and found that such positions are overwhelmingly held by women.

“Women make up the majority of staff and part-time attorneys at large firms. Staff attorney positions offer little possibility of career advancement, and part-time attorneys are often the first to be let go,” said The NAWL Foundation President Stephanie Scharf, partner at Schoeman Updike Kaufman & Scharf in Chicago.

She said such law firm structures help ensure that women advance at a “snail’s pace” though they now make up approximately 50 percent of all law school graduates.

According to the survey:

– More than 60 percent of staff attorneys are women, the highest percentage of women lawyers in any category of practice and by definition the category with little possibility of career advancement.

– During the 2010 survey period, 93 percent of large law firms terminated lawyers, with men and women let go in proportionate numbers. But, terminations are highest among part-time attorneys, a position largely occupied by women: 56 percent of firms terminated one or more part-time employees, and in 83 percent of those firms, more women than men were terminated.

– The percentage of women equity partners is unchanged over the last five years, with women accounting for only about 15 percent of equity partners.

– The average firm’s highest governing committee includes only one or two women among its members. And about 10 percent of the nation’s largest firms have no women  on their governing committees.

– Female associate compensation is on par with that of male associate, but the gap widens at higher levels. Women equity partners earned 85 percent of the compensation earned by their male counterparts.

– Forty-six percent of firms credited no women at all among their Top 10 rainmakers

Read the full NAWL Survey Report.


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